(ATTN: UPDATES with KCNA's latest English-language report; ADDS unification ministry's reaction in paras 22-23)
By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Jan. 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called the United States the "foremost principal enemy" of his country, threatening to continue advancing its nuclear capabilities, state media said Saturday.
Kim also said Washington's policy against Pyongyang won't change regardless of who is in the White House, adding that "key to establishing new relationship" between the two countries "lies in the U.S. withdrawal of its hostile policy towards" North Korea, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Kim made the remarks reporting to the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party currently under way in Pyongyang, the North's first reference to transition of power in Washington since Joe Biden's election as U.S. president in November. They also came days before Biden's inauguration slated for Jan. 20., which experts see as aimed at pressuring the incoming administration in Washington.
In the report, Kim declared that the North will now "approach the U.S. on the principle of answering force with toughness."
"We should put the focus of foreign political activities on containing and subduing the U.S., the fundamental obstacle to the development of our revolution and our foremost principal enemy," KCNA said.
Kim has held three meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump, but denuclearization talks have made little progress since their no-deal summit in Hanoi in 2019.
Biden earlier said that he would not meet the North Korean leader without preconditions, vowing to pursue "principled" diplomacy on Pyongyang. He has called Kim a "thug" and "dictator," denouncing Trump for giving legitimacy to Kim through summits.
Referring to the summits with Trump, Kim said the U.S. hostile policy has "become more violent" despite the North's "good-will efforts" and "greatest patience" to reduce tensions in the region.
Kim rolled out a series of goals to boost the North's nuclear arsenal, calling for improvement in missiles' strike capabilities targeting objects in the range of 15,000 kilometers, apparently intended to be capable of reaching the mainland U.S.
"It is necessary to ... (make) nuclear weapons smaller, lighter and tactical and steadily push ahead with the production of super large nuclear warhead," the report said.
The North also boasted of a new nuclear-powered submarine, saying that it has completed the research design and it is in the stage of final examination.
Other military projects ordered by Kim include the development of tactical nuclear weapons, ground or submarine-launched solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), hypersonic warhead and a military surveillance satellite.
"The geopolitical features of our state called for pushing ahead with the already-started building of the nuclear force without interruption for the welfare of the people, destiny of the revolution, existence and independent development of the state," it said.
Still, the North Korean leader reaffirmed that Pyongyang would not use its nuclear arsenal unless "hostile forces" attempt to attack with their nuclear weapons.
Washington has yet to respond to the North's announcement.
With regard to relations with South Korea, Kim appeared to have left room for improvement in the currently chilled ties, saying things could return to three years ago when a peace mood was created. But he emphasized that it all depends on South Korea's attitude.
"The report seriously warned the South Korean authorities that if they continue to label our action 'provocation' with a double-dealing and biased mindset, we have no other choice but to deal with them in a different way," it said.
Inter-Korean relations have remained stalled since the Hanoi summit as sanctions stand in the way of cross-border exchanges and cooperation.
The ties chilled further last year, as North Korea blew up an inter-Korean joint liaison office in anger over anti-Pyongyang leafleting in June and killed a South Korean fisheries official drifting near its western sea border in September.
North Korea has not responded to Seoul's offers for talks and cooperative projects, while focusing on warding off an outbreak of the coronavirus on its soil by sealing its border and toughening quarantine measures.
Kim said such projects on "anti-epidemic and humanitarian cooperation and individual tourism" are all "inessential," calling for a halt to the combined exercises between South Korea and the United States.
Following the report, Seoul's unification ministry reaffirmed its commitment to establishing a lasting peace on the peninsula.
"We are firmly determined to implement inter-Korean agreements and hope the two Koreas create a new starting point for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula based on mutual trust and respect in the near future," ministry spokesperson Yoh Sang-key said in a release.
During the congress, Kim also unveiled a new development plan for the next five years, which centers on building a "self-supporting" economy.
North Korea will focus its investment in the metal and chemical industries, among others, while strengthening the technological base for the agricultural sector, it said.
"The main seed and theme of the plan are, as always, self-reliance and self-sufficiency," the report said.
This week's congress, the first in nearly five years, came as North Korea has been faced with a triple whammy of the fallout of back-to-back typhoons in the summer, a protracted border closure due to the coronavirus pandemic and global sanctions on its economy.
Opening the event on Tuesday, Kim admitted the failure to meet the country's previous five-year development goals, describing the past few years as a period of "unprecedented, worst-ever trials."
KCNA said that a fifth-day session was to be held Saturday.
It is still unclear for how many days the congress will continue as the North has not made public the exact schedule. The previous congress in 2016 was held for four days.
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